Whence Truth? Truth Defined
I want to begin by recommending a couple of books.
Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism by Douglas Groothius
This volume was written in 2000 and still remains an excellent overview of the challenges of being in a post-truth world. The book is described as “a fascinating and intellectually rigorous work on truth and its implications in postmodern society and personal life.” If you are interested in something a bit on the academic side and somewhat philosophical, this is your book.
The Moment of Truth by Steven Lawson
This book was written in 2018 and is a collection of sermons delivered by Dr. Lawson that speak to the biblical nature of truth and its implications. If you are interested in an easy reading, yet engaging, work on the importance of truth in a post-truth world this is a great book.
“What is truth?”
As long as homo sapiens have been around this question has engaged the human mind. Philosophers have asked it. Theologians have asked it. Atheists have asked it. The people around us with little or no interest in theology and philosophy ask it.
Every time somebody says…
“That’s just your interpretation of that passage.”
“God does not exist.”
“Science is the only sure way to know anything.”
“I am a man trapped in a woman’s body.”
… they are giving their answer to the question - what is truth? They may not think about it in such specific terms, but that is what they are doing. They are telling you what they believe the truth to be and about how they believe it is discovered.
Christians must think through this question with a deliberation and clarity that is, sadly, often missing. We live in a world that is antithetical to our faith, is post-truth (or at least acts like it), and is consumed by the subjective and the emotive.
Yet our mandate has not changed and it involves understanding and telling the truth…
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” - John 14:6
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” - Matthew 28:18-20
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. - 1 Peter 3:14-16
To fulfill our mandates we need to understand the truth, its implications, and the way in which our world will react to it. Without a proper understanding of the biblical view of truth, our ability to interact with unbelievers (and believers as well) will be muted by the surrounding culture or will make wrongful compromises with our truth impoverished society. Truth is massively important. No one can be saved without the truth, nor can anyone be sanctified or strengthened without it.
This will be the topic of our next few blogs. We begin today with a general understanding of truth from Scripture.
Truth in the Old Testament (‘emet) was primarily concerned with faithfulness and conformity to fact/reality. In the New Testament, we see the extension of the Old Testament idea of truth. Alethia and its derivations retain the Hebrew idea of “conformity to fact.” The related idea of faithfulness is seen in the pistos family of words which are frequently translated as “faithful, reliable or trustworthy.” (Groothius) Roger Nicole explains the implications of this, “The primary New Testament emphasis is clearly on truth as conformity to reality and opposition to lies and errors.” Truth in Scripture involves factuality, faithfulness, and completeness (Groothius)
Theologically speaking we see an important connection between truth and God. Truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Truth is the self-disclosure of God himself. It is what it is because God declares it so and makes it so. All truth must be defined in terms of God, whose very nature is truth. (cf Groothius) Truth is not a cultural invention but is received. It is not something to which we can be agnostic or apathetic. It must transform our lives.
Truth is not just generally related to God but is reflected in the person and work of each member of the Trinity. God the Father is “the God of truth” (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). Jesus Christ is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In fact, he is “the truth” (14:6). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Paul calls Scripture “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus prayed, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Everything about God is true - his nature and his word.
It is no wonder, and certainly no exaggeration, that John Calvin says, “Nothing is deemed more precious by God than truth.”
Given what Scripture tells us about truth we can confidently say that truth is that which is in correspondence to reality; telling the truth is stating things the way they actually are. This is the correspondence theory of truth, philosophically speaking. To put it another way, the truth or falsity of something is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes that world (factual reality). (cf Source unknown)
Since truth is inseparable from God and his word it is no wonder that our world hates the truth and seeks to relativize it as much as possible. It’s also no wonder that the world hates us; if we are doing things correctly as it relates to truth. Let me state a few things that are patently obvious to make my point.
The trinitarian God is truth and speaks only the truth. Christianity is tied intimately to God. Scripture reveals the truth of God. Christianity is tied intimately to the word of God.
The world hates God. It hates his word. It hates the truth. It hates us.
Carl Henry explains this more eloquently than I ever could, “Christianity contends that revelational truth is intelligible, expressible in valid propositions, and universally communicable. Christianity does not profess to communicate a meaning that is significant only within a particular community or culture. It expects men of all cultures and nations to comprehend its claims about God and insists that men everywhere ought to acknowledge and appropriate them.”
Francis Schaeffer provides further insight. He reminds us that Christianity is true to the way things are. It is “not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital ‘T.’” Christian truth concerns all things in reality, not just religious things. It “is not just a lot of bits and pieces -- there is a beginning and an end, a whole system of truth, and this system is the only system that will stand up to all the questions that are presented to us as we face the reality of existence.” Philip Ryken concludes, “Christianity is a God-given, Bible-based, Christ-centered worldview that gives us a coherent and comprehensive view of reality.”
Truth matters. It is the only thing that matters. Only the truth saves. Truth alone sets us free from bondage and brings us into a relationship with God. We must know it, preach it and defend it from attacks.
Our next blog will offer a more detailed description of the biblical understanding of truth outlined above.
Soli Deo Gloria